|(( Technically, a portrait of Rokovon:|
but seems like it might make a good frontispiece. ))
Survey of Norrathian History
A Neutral Account, Written for the Beginning Student
The Age of Refuge: The First of Our Own Ages
What survived of Qeynos was besieged by gnolls, and rabid, starving wildlings, and their own unquiet dead. The lawless and unlettered moved among them, smuggling contraband into the city, and stealing goods and people from it. Trade was chancy at best: every merchant that would make the attempt overland hired mercenary guards to defend them, for the Queen's armies were stretched thin already holding the city alone.
Freeport fared little better: the city's farms became a desert, and the orcs lay siege to the walls. They toppled the outer walls, and the city struggled to feed itself, caught between the unceasing waves of the orcs, the predations of unwashed bandits, and the ravenous unbound dead. The Overlord opened Citizenship to any soul who would swear to the city's defense, and created a new class of Overseers to rebuild the armies.
Between the riven contents of Karan and D'Lere, lies the Sea of Refuge. Though in the early days after the shattering it was fraught with tempests, they were shorter and less fierce than in the other seas. The sea claimed no few ships, but some of the souls, the sea gave back. Thousands washed ashore the islands and the mainlands, bereft of home and memory.
It was in these days that the Far Seas Trading Company was established. Initially the Far Seas was beholden to and permitted within neither remaining city, but had permissions to land at the colonies of both. They built an empire on ferrying supplies to ill-provisioned colonial outposts, and selling refugees to the commanders of the same.
Representatives of the Company were posted in two places along the Coldwind coastline: by the Antonican lighthouse and the Thundering Steppes docks. Along the Tempest coast of D'Lere, the Company was in tight competition with the Blackshield for the use of the outlying harbors, and relied instead on overland caravans from the Crossroads trade outpost to the treacherous pirate port at the Naythex beachhead. The Company maintains liaisons in these places even today, though the areas are pacified - almost civilized, compared to the days of Refuge.
Even in the chaos of the time, there remained some small settlements outside the great cities, and many of the martial, arcane, or mystical orders which had an establishment in relative seclusion chose to remain there despite the danger. Many of these, of course, fell to the ongoing tremors, the depredations of wild beasts, savage races, or the unquiet dead. Those who remained often signed treaties of fealty to the nearest City, and received a detachment of the regular army to protect them. Others relied on their ability to hire passing sell-swords and explorers to defend them or fetch supply.
It is difficult to convey to the modern reader how incredibly perilous the world was in this Age. The relative peace which is now enjoyed the world over was bought at great cost by generations of blood, and legions of elite heroes. The Reader who now shelters behind the great force-shields against the attack of the Awakened may well scoff at the idea that they live in an age of peace, but the heroes of the Age of Refuge would likewise be amazed to see drakes only in small pockets of the world, and it is unlikely that even a sight of any one of today's bustling harbors would convince them that the sea-lanes are well and truly open.
In this time, the Ulteran spire network was entirely shattered, and what powers it had once drawn upon were in such flux that even had the arcanists of the day recovered some fragment of how to work upon them, they would have been unlikely to survive any attempt to touch them. It is generally agreed by historians that the nexus storms were in many cases catalysts for the storms and tremors that manifested in the physical world, and may have lent a mad sort of strength to the savage races of the day, at the cost of course, of whatever sanity they might have once possessed.
It has been theorized that the savages have since been irreparably damaged in their blood by the chaos of that age, and their strength further diluted by excessive inbreeding. Various tribes were as isolated from one another as the outlying civilized settlements, with none of the natural advantages which our own peoples posses.
Likewise, the mystical circle-roads were impassable in this time. Some ruins of the original Gates remained, but though contemporary memoirs suggest they retained some resonance of their former glory, they were no more than nostalgic landmarkers during the Age of Refuge. Nor were all of them even discovered: like the ruins of the old spires, there were fragments scattered across the known world, and other pieces which were not discovered for generations after.
What little translocation and stasis magic did function in this era was exceptionally limited. Living creatures could only be moved a few leagues, and at great personal cost to the caster. Contemporary accounts indicate this cost was so great that it was indeed preferable to maintain a riding beast and remount string rather than rely on the mere possibility that such a limited Gate would function at need. The most common use of these limited magics at the time was by the various courier companies which together composed the world-spanning Post. Nothing larger than a single cubit could be sent by post at all, and the magical cost of maintaining the letters and parcels in such stasis was significant at the time. In many cases, it was cheaper to hire a physical courier for such work, and there is strong evidence that such work comprised at least a quarter of the work done by free-lance bonded mercenaries.
The chaos of the outlands was so extreme during this age, in fact, that securing food for the cities was a significant logistical problem. The fertile land in Karan yielded more, of course, but the variety was severely curtailed by what could be grown quickly in that climate, and brought to the city for preservation. Exorbitant tariffs and trade restrictions were put in place by the Queen and the ruling council against all foreign food and drink: the proceeds were funneled directly to that portion of the Army which oversaw the planting and harvest in Antonica itself.
D'Lere, of course, has always been a harsher sort of country, especially after the irrigation system in the commons was destroyed by the catastrophic events following the Shattering. Early attempts to militarize planting and harvest proved disastrous, and led to the loss of three outlying districts of the City itself to the invading orc tribes. Shortly after that, the Overlord began issuing letters of marque to ships as well as land companies, and these were written in such broad strokes as to legalize the seizure of ships, wagons, artifacts, and provisions from any "Enemy of the State" for any cause whatsoever. Enemies of the State remain loosely defined to this day as any citizen of a foreign power not currently in formal alliance, or treasonous citizen of Freeport itself.
Mercenary companies who did well on these ongoing supply raids were the first to be tapped for more targeted work: rogue arcanists, revanent epidemics, drake nests, savage warleaders, lesser wyrms, and the reopening of trade routes. The Reader who is interested in the histories of individual companies will find few official histories from this period, but it was not uncommon for officers of these companies to keep personal memoirs.
Those who were lucky enough to live to something like a retirement age often published revised versions of these as entertainment: the taste of the time tended toward such things, and they were read in much the same spirit as the patently fictitious, sensational "confessions" and wonder-tales of the day. No formal exercise of history was practiced at that time, and there is little evidence that the reading public discerned, or even had concern for, the distinction between fact and fiction in the chronicles of their age.
It leaves us, therefore, with a curious but sensational muddle, to tease out the threads of truth and bombast from one another as we attempt to reconstruct the details of the age which had so much to do with how our own was formed.